"The Shift To Renewables: How Far, How Fast?"

Guest post by David Middleton

This Forbes article was written by retired oil industry executive and geophysicist Earl Ritchie.  In my opinion, it is a very well-balanced treatment of renewable energy.

OCT 17, 2016

The Shift To Renewables: How Far, How Fast?


Earl J. Ritchie, Lecturer, Department of Construction Management

University of Houston Energy FellowsUniversity of Houston Energy Fellows, Contributor

Powering the United States or the world with 100% renewable energy is the stated goal of many individuals and organizations. What they are really talking about is 100% renewables to generate electricity, because it’s not feasible in the near-term to replace motor fuels with renewables. Views of how quickly this can be done are highly polarized – some predict less than two decades, while others see fossil fuels as the dominant source at least through 2050.

The primary argument for renewable energy is to avoid anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change by reducing CO2 emissions.


How quickly can it be done?

In a 2008 speech, former Vice President Al Gore said it was “achievable, affordable and transformative” to generate all electricity in in the United States using wind, solar and other renewable sources within 10 years. One might dismiss this as political hyperbole, and it has not happened.

A claim that arguably has a better technical basis appeared in a widely publicized November 2009 Scientific American article by Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, professors at Stanford University and the University of California respectively. They suggested all electrical generation and ground transportation internationally could be supplied by wind, water and solar resources as early as 2030. Even that is wildly optimistic…


Other forecasts are considerably less optimistic. Two examples: the2015 MIT Energy and Climate Outlook has low carbon sources worldwide as only 25% of primary energy by 2050, and renewables only 16%; the International Energy Agency’s two-degree scenario has renewables, including biomass, as less than 50%. Even the pledges of the widely praised Paris Agreement of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) leave fossil fuels near 75% of energy supply in 2030, when the commitments end.

How are we doing?

Growth of renewables as a fraction of the overall energy supply has been slow, although recent growth of wind and solar is impressive. This graph shows the annual growth rate of renewables in the U.S. since 1980 as less than 2%.



Since 2007, wind and solar have grown over 20% per year in absolute terms, and about 15% as a percent of supply. There was no growth in other renewables during that period. The international numbers are similar.

What is possible?

Proponents of renewable energy are fond of saying that 100% renewable is technically feasible; it only requires political will. With some caveats, this is true. There is theoretically enough sunlight and wind, and a growth rate of 20% means a doubling every four years. If sustained, this would mean we could have 500 times the existing amount of wind and solar by 2050. However, there are both economic and technical barriers.

The rapid growth of renewables in both the United States and Europe has been due in large part to subsidies that make investment in renewables highly profitable.


Technical barriers to wind and solar are largely the result of intermittency and the location of favorable areas. Intermittency is not a problem as long as the proportion of renewable energy is small and excess capacity exists in conventional generating plants. It begins to become a problem when intermittent sources reach 30% of capacity and is very significant when it reaches 50%.


Intermittency can theoretically be handled by diversification of sources, load shifting, overbuilding capacity, and storage. All add cost. Diversification on a broad scale would require substantial changes to the energy grid. Storage on a utility scale is in an early stage of development, so costs remain uncertain. A large number of technologies exist, with varying estimated costs and applicability.


Some proponents of accelerating the replacement of fossil fuels advocate a massive effort, which they call a “moon shot” or compare to World War II. But this transition requires a great deal more effort than the moon shot, and there is serious question whether there is political motivation comparable to World War II. I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Earl J. Ritchie is a retired energy executive and teaches a course on the oil and gas industry at the University of Houston. He has 35 years’ experience in the industry. He started as a geophysicist with Mobil Oil and subsequently worked in a variety of management and technical positions with several independent exploration and production companies. Ritchie retired as Vice President and General Manager of the offshore division of EOG Resources in 2007. Prior to his experience in the oil industry, he served at the US Air Force Special Weapons Center, providing geologic and geophysical support to nuclear research activities.

Link to Full Article

I don’t know Mr. Ritchie very well.  I have met him in the past and several friends of mine know him very well.  His reputation as an extremely intelligent, thoughtful and fair-minded person is very well-earned, in my opinion.

While I am certain that many advocates of 100% renewable energy are sincere… You, literally, “can’t get there from here” without spending trillions of the taxpayers’ and energy consumers’ dollars.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have provided more than 80% of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years. In 2015, fossil fuels made up 81.5% of total U.S. energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century. In EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 Reference case projections, which reflect current laws and policies, that percentage declines to 76.6% by 2040. Policy changes or technology breakthroughs that go beyond the trend improvements included in the Reference case could significantly change that projection.

In 2015, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was its largest since the 1930s at nearly 10%. The greatest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind electricity generation.Liquid biofuels have also increased in recent years, contributing to the growing renewable share of total energy consumption.


In EIA’s Reference case projection, petroleum consumption remains similar to current levels through 2040, as fuel economy improvements and other changes in the transportation sector offset growth in population and travel. Coal consumption continues to decline, especially in the electric power sector. Natural gas consumption increases in the industrial sector and the electric power sector.

Some electric fuels, such as nuclear and hydroelectric, remain relatively flat in the Reference case, with little change in capacity or generation through 2040. Biomass, which includes wood as well as liquid biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, remain relatively flat, as wood use declines and biofuel use increases slightly. In contrast, wind and solar are among the fastest-growing energy sources in the projection, ultimately surpassing biomass and nuclear, and nearly exceeding coal consumption in the Reference case projection by 2040.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Annual Energy Outlook 2016

Despite the investment of over $1 trillion of private capital and billions of corporate welfare since 2008, wind and solar have actual grown at a slower pace than natural gas and are projected to have a slower growth rate through 2040.  Renewables, including hydroelectric, have barely gotten back to where they were in 1930.

The truly insane thing, is that some are advocating the rapid elimination of natural gas from the mix.

Politico Morning Energy recently reported that a major environmental group, the Sierra Club, doesn’t want to cross the natural gas bridge at all. They are organizing an aggressive campaign to stop the construction of natural gas power plants and pipelines. In the Sierra Club’s view there’s no river or canyon in our way. The US just needs to make the leap directly to a low carbon future, abandoning fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The Sierra Club believes that if the US and other countries cross the natural gas bridge, the world is headed toward a climate catastrophe.


Energy Collective

The IEA’s 2014 $44 trillion estimated cost to decarbonize global power generation would be a “drop in the bucket,” if natural gas was eliminated from the mix.


EIA Monthly Energy Review, September 2016

EIA Fossil fuels still dominate U.S. energy consumption despite recent market share decline

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October 20, 2016 8:46 am

Yes, trying to eliminate natural gas from the mix is nuts; which is why Ca and NY will attempt it.

Reply to  David Middleton
October 20, 2016 9:32 am

Even dumber than decarbonization in the first place?

Reply to  Resourceguy
October 21, 2016 10:32 am

It is astonishing that Natural Gas is not given any love considering its has been mostly responsible for the significant and continuing decline in the US of Green House Gases since 2007. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-04/documents/us-ghg-inventory-2016-chapter-executive-summary.pdf In addition, given the common proclamations that fracking has lead to a massive increase in methane leakage into the atmosphere, the same document finds that since 1990, there has been a DECREASE of almost 15% of Methane leakage from natural gas operations. It may be greater as 1990 was the first year analyzed in that study. (see above) How about Europe being even more successful. http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/greenhouse-gas-emission-trends-6/assessment Or how about the EIA finding that CO2 growth in the world as a whole, has gone two years now without an increase. Next time you hear about how we will have to radically change our life style and our government to accomplish our goals, think about these rather astonishing accomplishments. Or one might also wonder why you never seen this remarkable success proclaimed from the roof tops. Or are these facts not helpful to the meme that we are moving faster and faster toward a catastrophic end.

October 20, 2016 8:54 am

I have a difficult time getting past the word “renewable”, but now that I have, again, it’s time to acknowledge and confront the meme, “leave it in the ground.” Clearly this is the Gaic crux of the matter…that ALL extractive industries must end immediately and without any exceptions, well, except for the stuff in the batteries. The level of human suffering required to fulfill a r-word energy landscape is mind numbing, but it could happen. Vote on November 8th.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Wharfplank
October 20, 2016 9:47 am

Not only the stuff in the batteries! Wind turbines require concrete foundations, steel and aluminum structures, Rare Earth elements for the magnets in the generators, who knows what that goes into the paint, and copper wire to wind the generators and connect to the supply grid. These all require significant amounts of energy to mine, refine, fabricate, manufacture, and transport to installation sites. You can’t run a steel mill or aluminum refinery on intermittent power! I suspect that the typical ‘Leave It InThe Grounder’ knows very little about the details of the technology that they support. The myopic, uninformed ideologues who are advocating massive changes will be responsible for all of use freezing in the dark. By the time they realize how wrong they were, it will be very difficult to reverse course before the standard of living is seriously reduced and millions die.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 20, 2016 9:58 am

How many times has some youngster come here to declare that there’s no way wind and solar can be expensive. After wind and sunlight are free.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 20, 2016 12:53 pm

The rare earth and stuff in the batteries could put the U.S. in another geopolitical behind the eight-ball in energy independence.
Need to watch the source of where important components of wind & solar come from. If the U.S. doesn’t have enough of these resources then why get tangled up playing geopolitics. Same as the oil situation?

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 20, 2016 2:37 pm

Not only the stuff in the batteries” – Clyde, you are right of course, but you have left out the largest component of “stuff”. The massively larger component of “stuff” than the “stuff” you covered. I’m talking about the “stuff” that the energy is used for – building, transport, agriculture, communication, etc, etc. ie, everything in the entire economy. Extraction industries are still needed for all those things. Without them, demand for energy collapses, so then there would be no need for the stuff used to build windmills, or for the stuff in the batteries.

Owen in GA
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 20, 2016 5:39 pm

We have loads of rare earths around the country, but our EPA regulations prevent us extracting it at anything like the price the Chinese are getting. Of course the areas around the Chinese mines will likely be uninhabitable for centuries, while we get the benefit of that poor planning.
On a geopolitical standpoint, we really aren’t in any trouble. We have the resources if the Chinese cut us off, though it will take time to develop, and ours are not quite as easy to extract. As with all natural resource development issues we would have to have the will and the price point to develop them. They would likely find running some of their factories a might difficult without our engineering input – though they could close that gap somewhat by calling their ex-pat engineers home from the US.
In today’s interconnect economies, any government pulling resource games is likely to find themselves on the losing end of a swarm of competitors swooping in to take the forfeited market which they would not soon get back due to the mistrust caused by their initial bone-headed move.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 21, 2016 12:44 pm

That’s the problem with “free” stuff…it’s expensive.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
October 22, 2016 12:38 am

I’ll believe in renewables when and ONLY when they are solely used to manufacture the so-called renewable energy devices (windmills, solar panels, batteries, etc.)

Reply to  Wharfplank
October 20, 2016 11:36 am

We shouldn’t be getting past the term “renewable”.
This “renewable” concept has the ability to morph legislatively and administatively (like “wetland” has over the last 30 years), and lack of a reasonable definition allows the “keep it in ground ” dupes to keep arguing for “renewables” without understanding what they are talking about.
Then there are the devious group that like that “renewable” can be discussed in a variable manner. “Renewable” in Canada is different that it is in USA (& who know what it means in China), and global comparisons about who’s doing what can be manipulated.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Wharfplank
October 20, 2016 8:55 pm

I think you should clearly distinguish between te profit and rent seeking driven ‘renewable industry’ that controls the likes of e.g. Greenpeace and FoE and the whole Agitprop system that represents green politics, and the actual beliefs of the benighted useful idiots who provide the cannon fodder.

October 20, 2016 8:54 am

In fact, intermittency becomes a signiticant issue for reliability in most grids with penetration above about 10%, because that is roughly the grid spinning reserve margin (10-12% is typical). There are exceptions where large amounts of flexible hydro are in the grid’s generating mix, as in Ontario. South Australia’s September blackout is an example of the stability problem that results from higher penetration.
Neither wind nor solar provide stabilizing grid inertia. Conventional generation provides it intrinsically via the flywheel effect. Adding sufficient synchronous condenser capacity to provide gridminertia to enable higher penetration would be prohibitively expensive, a cost that rightly should be shouldered completely by wind and solar and not by the grid. These machines are needed even with conventional grid inertia. Tokyo alone has six, each over 20 meters tall and over 30 meters in diameter, each costing several hundred million dollars.

Reply to  ristvan
October 20, 2016 10:52 am

Maybe it’s time to go back to DC generation and distribution. No finicky phases and frequencies to keep track of. AC could be produced at substations as needed.

Reply to  logicalchemist
October 20, 2016 11:26 am

If you don’t keep track of frequency you have to keep track of voltage and current with tighter tolerance (and more pain). No free lunch …
But you may be right anyway : nowadays much appliance (including electrical engine) are powered by DC, AC->DC converter are everywhere in homes and factories, so it could make sense to sell DC instead of AC. I am wondering …

Reply to  logicalchemist
October 20, 2016 11:35 am

DC transmission is being considered, the technology has changed so that AC is no longer the clear winner in all cases. But DC isn’t the clear winner in all cases, either.

Owen in GA
Reply to  logicalchemist
October 20, 2016 6:34 pm

I don’t know…skin effect losses on DC current can get pretty high at grid scales. Up converting to a million volts AC (175-1200kV – I call it a million to emphasize the ridiculousness) for long distance transfer (so I^2R is minimized by making I lower) makes sense unless you have superconducting transmission carriers – then who cares DC is fine as there is little to no radiation loss as there is in AC (50 or 60 Hertz hum in AM radios is power lost to transmission). Transformers are simple technology and winding ratios are easy to calculate so moving AC up and down the voltage scale to minimize resistive losses is easy. (Not saying that designing a transformer to safely handle a one million volt potential between leads is child’s play mind you – those engineers earn their money and high voltage linemen definitely earn their pay.)
It costs too much to convert to HVDC unless there is a very good reason (like grid balancing or underwater transmission), because you have to have an AC motor turning a DC generator or a very large rectifier circuit (I can’t imagine the size of those diodes and heat sinks) and a reverse setup at the other end to convert it back down to household current. Locally we could have huge capacitors to even out loads and shunt any high frequency spikes to ground if we are using DC to the wall, and we could go back to 2 wire house distribution and 2 prong plugs. Long distance distribution is impractical unless voltages are 100 – 1200 kV. The cost to the common household to affect this would be pretty large as I know I have about $15,000 in AC electric motored devices in just my house (A/C, Refrigerator, Washer, Dryer, Freezer, fans) and another 2-3 thousand in things that could probably be adapted with minor wiring changes (Smart TV, LCD Monitors, Computer CPUs, etc) because they are basically DC devices that have a power supply designed to turn AC into DC.

Reply to  logicalchemist
October 21, 2016 7:24 am

LarryD: Interesting links – Thank you.

Reply to  logicalchemist
October 21, 2016 7:49 am

When dealing with AC, the strength of the magnetic field drops off at r**4, not r**2. This is because there are two wires carrying an equal and opposite current, but in different directions. So their magnetic fields cancel.

Reply to  ristvan
October 21, 2016 4:31 am

Very nice informed post ristvan.
You must be an electrical engineer.

Reply to  Janus100
October 23, 2016 8:21 pm

MarkW said
“When dealing with AC, the strength of the magnetic field drops off at r**4, not r**2. This is because there are two wires carrying an equal and opposite current, but in different directions. So their magnetic fields cancel”
The cancellation is correct, but running some numbers shows it is close to a power 3, not 4. But a still strong effect. With power pole wires separated by 10 feet for example, at 100 feet away the net field is down by a factor of about 1000 compared to a single wire down by 100 and at 1000 feet distance by one million vs. a single wire of 10,000. However this neglects the speed of light at which electromagnetic waves travel. So there is a frequency at distances away from both wires where the two wire radiations are in phase and add, not cancel, with a drop off strength of 2/distance^2. As Marconi showed, that is what makes radio transmission work.

October 20, 2016 9:03 am

Anyone who talks future energy and makes no mention of molten salt nuclear reactors is one ignorant energy “expert.” This is a technology which will, by the simple process of economics and technological excellence, replace ALL forms of power production. No energy analyst can possibly be opposed to or neglect mentioning molten salt nuclear and remain credible. It has no deficiencies. Period. End of story.

Reply to  arthur4563
October 20, 2016 9:56 am

What can be done versus what will be done are chasms apart. Remind us how much energy consumers are using which is begin generated in this fashion this year. I don’t doubt if it lives up to the hype, a lot of power will be generated and consumed. However, it won’t be quick to get there.

Reply to  arthur4563
October 20, 2016 11:18 am

Molten salt nuclear needs a billionare sugardaddy.

Reply to  arthur4563
October 20, 2016 12:32 pm

Is molten salt nuclear reactor technology like commercial fusion technology – it’ll be here in 10 years? Or is there some real possibility of it becoming commercially viable?

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
October 20, 2016 5:19 pm

At least molten salt nuclear reactor technology has been proven to work in a controllable (better than LWR) manner. Commercialization is still in progress but the slow pace of this is at least partly to do with DOE directives that were political.
Being the simplest design (in terms of development from the ONR 1960’s demonstration plant) the Terrestrial Energy IMSR will hopefully get to a pilot stage soon since the DOE has invited Terrestrial Energy to submit the second stage for a Loan Guarantee to support financing of a project to license, construct and commission the first IMSR plant.

Owen in GA
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
October 20, 2016 6:41 pm

The last I saw the biggest problem with the molten salt reactor was the reactivity of the salt with the heat transfer cases. Most materials corrode quickly in salt environments and having to shut the thing down to replace the heat exchanger every two years would put a real limit on its utility!
It may be a materials sciences problem that is solvable (I almost typed soluble) but it still needs a solution. We can’t have irradiated salts escaping containment even if the material is mostly benign.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
October 20, 2016 9:03 pm

No. The challenges are big, the uncertainties high and the economics unknown, but it has been done.
However it is no panacea.
Nor are the so called problems with conventional reactors really problems except in the minds of the Green Unwashed.
All government needs to do with energy is stop subsiding it, and remove unnecessary regulation from it, and let the best man win.
(HInt: that wont be renewables OR LFTR).

Reply to  arthur4563
October 20, 2016 2:45 pm

arthur4563 – you may or may not be right. I really don’t care whether you are right or wrong. All we need to do is covered in your very sensible reference to the “simple process of economics and technological excellence“. All we need to do is to give free rein to that process, and then see which energies win.

Reply to  arthur4563
October 24, 2016 10:02 am

Correction to my previous replay on Oct 23 at 8:21 PM to MarkW’s comment.
It should be the magnetic field from a long wire varies with the current divided by the distance (not the distance squared, which is the case for a very short length of wire). For the case with long wires with current in the opposite directions, the net field varies with the distance squared for distances a few times greater than the wire separation.
However this again neglects the speed of light at which electromagnetic waves travel. So there is a frequency at distances away from both wires where the two wire radiations are in phase and add, not cancel, with a drop off strength of 1/distance. As Marconi showed, that is what makes radio transmission work.

Reply to  Richard Petschauer
October 24, 2016 2:03 pm

If fact, the equation is quite simple:
The field from the two long conductors with currents in the opposite direction is proportional to 1/d – 1/(d+s) where s is the separation between the two wires and d is the distance from the nearest wire for d > s. This can be rearranged to the form:
s/(d^2 +sd)
It can be seen that for d >> s, the function approaches s/d^2.
At d = 10s, there is a 10% difference that drops to 1% at d = 100s.

Bubba Cow
October 20, 2016 9:33 am

What was going on in the 1930’s – hydro ??

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Bubba Cow
October 20, 2016 10:25 am

Burning wood for home heating and wind power on farms for pumping water or the occasional generator/battery setup. Hydro got a big boost with the TVA.

Owen in GA
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
October 20, 2016 6:46 pm

Don’t forget COAL for home heating. Biggest improvement in city air quality was attributable to moving the coal fires to those large power plants outside the city rather than the average householders basement.
My paternal grandparents’ house had an external chute on the front of the house for coal delivery for the boiler in the basement. The boiler had long since been replaced with a gas forced air unit, but the chute and bin were still in the basement.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Bubba Cow
October 20, 2016 9:04 pm

And coal powered steam turbines.

October 20, 2016 10:01 am

Renewable drivers, not converters.

Susan Corwin
October 20, 2016 10:18 am

Clueless wonders set “goals” that other people “should” achieve?
I know Moore’s “key result” for FAB and processor folk
…..referred to by clueless old media wonders as “Moore’s Law”
and the “get a man on the moon” challenge
have inspired no-skill folk to aspire to “winning is the only thing”
…..”if we set the pie-in-the-sky goal, the techno-weenies will do it.”
In managing groups, especially research labs,
..it is critical to set an aggressive vision of what needs to be accomplished.
But the “vision” needed to be kept in the “corridors of reality”
People setting a “vision” with no clue how to achieve is,
…in my view
bullies with no “skin in the game” and “for you not for me”
……not worried about total cost/collateral damage.

October 20, 2016 10:27 am

Has anyone proposed a test of the “all clean energy” assertions? Maybe it would be useful to get some town or county to go for it. Even with federal financing it would be a better way to spend the money as the cost of getting it all green could be shown empirically. I don’t mean to supply this area with a few wind mills and make them get by but to get enough green energy and storage and transmission capacity so they were independent of the grid. Admittedly it would have to be an area with a significant population as we know individual homes can do it now. If it could be accomplished for say 20000 people the cost and problems would be discovered and published. Possibly some solutions to the problems could be found. If it failed for cost or practicality that would be data worth having.

Reply to  DMA
October 20, 2016 11:25 am

I keep wishing someone would “call the bet”, and make, say, Sacramento and Berkley go 100% renewable, and cut them from the grid. It would definitely be a learning experience.

October 20, 2016 11:10 am

The question should rather be : “The Shift To Renewables: why, when ?”
It happens that we have a cellar full of very good canned food for quite a long time ahead, and instead of eating it, we should leave it there and go outside and wreck havoc in the nature and ruin our back to grow not so good food ? That’s supposed to be the “green” way, seriously ? Seems more of a Scrooge way to me.
Humans will probably have some day to turn back to renewable (I hope with better technology than when they did, before Industrial Revolution), but to hasten this blight is just nonsense.

Reply to  paqyfelyc
October 20, 2016 11:29 am

With oil and coal we have between 500 and 1000 years before we have to worry. Through nuclear into the mix and you get another 1000 years or more.
I’m not going bother trying to guess what type of technologies will be available in 2000 years. I’ll let them worry about it.

Leo Smith
Reply to  MarkW
October 20, 2016 9:06 pm

Nothging like that long. Divide by ten.

Leo Smith
Reply to  MarkW
October 20, 2016 9:06 pm

but add nuclear and you have 10,000 years.

Reply to  MarkW
October 21, 2016 7:52 am

My numbers are accurate.
You make the mistake of just looking at proven reserves.

Richard Lee Stevens
October 20, 2016 11:14 am

Mr. Spencer, your post is excellent. However, you forgot to mention that wind generators also need petrochemical lubricants and hydraulic fluid. Wind generators also need fire protection which will be some sort of greenhouse gas when it accidentally or intentionally dumps.

October 20, 2016 11:31 am

We shouldn’t be too hasty in condemning all renewable sources of energy. As I drive around town I see that solar panels are being installed in many large parking lots, such as at schools, office buildings, shopping malls, etc. It’s nice being able to park in the shade.

Reply to  Charles
October 20, 2016 12:59 pm

“It’s nice being able to park in the shade” – you can always park under a tree that strips carbon dioxide out of the air and simultaneously produces oxygen whilst you go about your chores.

Reply to  bobburban
October 20, 2016 1:12 pm

Thank you, Bob… But my comment was intended as sarcasm.

October 20, 2016 11:50 am

If CO2 or peak Oil are real issues, nuclear is where the best prospects are. Michael Shellenberger has a new TED talk:

Tom Halla
October 20, 2016 1:04 pm

Ritchie is much too kind to the renewable advocates. Utility scale storage, as well as frequency stabilization, is something that has not been demonstrated in practice, so “renewables” should bear the costs of developing such technology, and delayed until such is demonstrated.

October 20, 2016 1:10 pm

EIA and EPA claims growth in hydro, wood, waste and geothermal. But three of the four sources provide a minuscule amount of energy in comparison to hydro. Two of the three weak ones, wood and waste, are not classified as clean sources for their burning emits CO2 along with “real” pollutants. The legitimate clean output of the three then originates only from the geothermal source. It generates 1.9 GW, a value essentially unchanged in decades.
The fourth source – hydro – provides 29 GW which is 94 % of the 30.9 GW yield from this group of clean, renewable sources. To increase hydro-electricity it would have to either rain more or we would have to reduce irrigation (dams often serve both purposes). The rain is beyond our control and the irrigation – are we willing to cut down on fresh veggies?
It should also be pointed out that these four sources cannot be claimed a result of the last decades’ financing of renewables for they existed long before the clean-energy budgets did. Despite, the Dep’t of Energy considers them to be not only a relatively recent addition but also growing rapidly. The EIA annual report contains the following true but misleading statements:
Between 2005 and 2015, electricity generation from solar increased 48 fold, from 550 GWh to 26,473 GWh.
Biomass increased 18.3% from 54,277 to 64,191 GWh, and geothermal increased 14.1% from 14,692 to 16,767 GWh. (Biomass is “wood” and “waste” in the graphs.)
Such statements encourage pro-renewables media to brag without revealing that the 48 fold increase of a near-zero value is still very little, as is the 18.3 and 14.1 percent of nothing. Graphed on the scale of hydro, the growth looks more like like horizontal lines. The DOE/EIA statements are further misleading for omitting to report the decrease in hydro in the same period, a decrease that outweighs the sum of the others many-fold. The in-fact overall decline in that very decade is called growth.

Reply to  jake
October 21, 2016 9:12 am

Incorrect. Most of the dams in the US have no electricity generation capacity. Granted, many of them are small and remote so generation and transmission are not economically viable, but it is certainly possible to increase current hydro generation.

Reply to  ChadB
October 21, 2016 12:36 pm

What’s incorrect? That most dams are not economically feasible for electricity production? Oh, you wrote that. Sorry. Are you aware that hydroelectricity is down 36 % (!) from what it used to be? And you think that the U.S. can increase production over that of a 1/4 of a century ago and go higher yet? Oh, you are actually not. Sorry.

Svend Ferdinandsen
October 20, 2016 2:03 pm

Wind and solar can not at present keep stability in the grid. Maybe together with hydro, but so much hydro is not available in US. The only option left is thermal production on biomass, but again that amount of biomass is not avilable. (Europe is using it anyway).
Solar is out of production every night, and wind only produce 30% of their capacity, and stops anyway when the wind is not blowing.
The only CO2 free production is then nuclear, so you have to be able to produce most of the electricity by nuclear, and be ready to ramp it up or down with the wind and sun, or accept that only a small proportion of wind and sun can be fed into the grid.
Anyway it would need a three fold reserve in capacity, and then a three fold investment.
And then we have the transportation!
Why have green campaigners lost all their sense of proportions?

michael hart
Reply to  Svend Ferdinandsen
October 20, 2016 5:23 pm

Svend Ferdinandsen, the green campaigners mostly never had a sense of proportion in the first place.
They too often tend to represent the people Susan Corwin describes upthread: People who regard it as their role to make the demands that other people must then “make it so”. They are woefully unfamiliar with the technical problems of making things in the real, physical world.

Leo Smith
Reply to  michael hart
October 20, 2016 9:26 pm

Yup. Cat bellers* to the last.
Us engineers who get called upon to actually hang the bell round the cat’s neck, are then blamed if we get eaten, blamed if the bell isn’t the ‘right kind of bell’ and blamed if the cat still eats the mice anyway, having discovered that if it lies down long enough bell or no bell, the mice are stupid enough to get near enough for a pounce.
* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeFGbJyb1LI

October 20, 2016 3:47 pm

The push for “renewables” is clearly ideologically driven by some irrational desire to create a Utopia. Should this ever be achieved, the advocates will not be satisfied. They will clamor for some other “improvement” to the status quo so as satisfy their insatiable Utopian ideology.
We can generate all of our electricity via nuclear technologies. Beyond uranium are thorium fueled reactors that use liquid salts and are passively cooled and cannot melt down. Why should we destroy thousands of square miles of scenery by covering it with bird chopping wind turbines or solar cells?

Leo Smith
Reply to  buckwheaton
October 20, 2016 9:29 pm

The push for “renewables” is clearly commercially driven by some venal desire to create a massive profit by deploying inferior technology at gouging prices to a gullible consumer, and brown envelopes to the legislators.
Forget what people believe. They will believe whatever Leonardo Di Caprio or Hillary Clinton tells them to believe.

October 20, 2016 5:32 pm

The USA has completely given into a ongoing $$trillion deficits . What did it get a few seconds in a 2 year campaign ? The renewable subsidy racket can go on as long as people are willing to take on USA debt .
They are playing with monopoly money and when the game ends so will scary global warming . Count on it . In the mean time the looting of citizens will continue with the helpful hand of most media and the politicians beholding to the greenie donors .

Edward Katz
October 20, 2016 6:24 pm

When will the Sierra Club and the other eco-alarmists realize that their scare tactics are being ignored? If we’ve been headed to global environmental disasters, it would seem that the first sector to feel it would have been agriculture. Yet since 1 960 world wheat and rice production has tripled, while corn has increased almost five fold. There is also a worldwide glut of dairy products, and 2014 set an all-time record for global cereal grains output. Environmental disaster? Only in the minds of the GGs (Green Goofballs).

Reply to  Edward Katz
October 21, 2016 12:52 pm

A tip of the hat to Norman Borlaug.

October 20, 2016 9:38 pm

There may be a dip in coal usage in the US, but there sure ain’t no dip in India or China – the smart countries of the future.

Reply to  toorightmate
October 21, 2016 7:54 am

The dip in this country is due mostly to fracking making natural gas a lot less expensive.

October 20, 2016 9:49 pm

The cost of decarbonizing global electrical production is about $100 trillion. Total world debt is close to $230 trillion or about 300 per cent of global GDP. Put another away there is no way in Hell to pay for any of this. The coming economic collapse is going to make the Depression look like a walk in the park. When it happens, all this nonsense about renewable energy will be heaped on the garbage pile as countries try to just feed their citizens.

October 20, 2016 10:51 pm

If wind mills only last 10-12 years before leaving fields of junk, why are you calling them “renewable”?

Bob Lyman
October 21, 2016 12:59 am

In a September 4, 2015 article in Watts Up With That, Tom Tamarkin and Barrie Lawson examined what would be needed to replace 440 gigawatts of caseload electricity generation in the U.S. (annual energy demand of 3854 Twh) by solar energy. They calculated that this would require 29.3 billion solar panels, and that if these were manufactured at the rate of one per second, it would take 930 years to produce them. See here:

October 21, 2016 9:23 am

Wow, the absolute hatred for solar and wind is quite palpable. Let’s ask the following counterfactual:
If solar and wind could be produced for $0.01/kwh would you support their integration into the grid? If the answer is no then your objection is not rational.
Let me also state that I am well aware that neither can be produced for those prices, this is really just a thought experiment. Some of the responses here are of the exact same tone that I would expect on HuffingtonPost in regards to Coal.
Texas has low cost electricity and a stable grid with wind accounting for 16% of production (not capacity, production) in the first half of the year, and set to rise next year. Wind dies down regularly in the summer when solar would otherwise be producing at a maximum, and so solar is being built out quite rapidly. As solar rolls out there will be a cap to the amount that peakers put onto the grid. Avoiding the peakers would bring down residential electricity further from its already low rates. It is likely that ERCOT is going to penetrate 20% wind and solar while simultaneously delivering the lowest cost electricity in the nation while and all that while still paying down build cost of CREZ and new generation. Personally I don’t care if this is achieved from NatGas, Coal, wind, solar, or cow farts. If the goal of low cost reliable electricity is being achieved in one location we should be asking whether it is feasible to achieve the same in other locations.
If it turns out that wind in Texas can easily be transmitted at low cost to the southeast then we ought to do that. If it turns out that wind cannot be economically viable in New York then we shouldn’t do that.
Overall though, get a grip and stop hating technologies because of the type of jerks that normally support the technology. Let the technology stand or fall on their own.

Chuck in Houston
Reply to  ChadB
October 21, 2016 11:14 am

“Let the technology stand or fall on their own.” Absolutely. Let’s do that.

October 21, 2016 9:54 pm

44 trillion bucks to decarbonize things that will always require carbon in their chemical make-up. It’s as if they have no idea what carbon is actually for.

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